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Bush's Produce Stores

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by Lucinda Barty (subscribe)
After growing up on a 7000 acre sheep property, adapting to the fast-paced Melbourne was a drastic but liberating change! Now a media-communications graduate, editor and journalist, I'm eager to share my return to a beautiful life in the country.
Published March 23rd 2014
Old fashioned business in a now modern city
Like collapsing time into a succession of rooms, walking through Bush's produce store awakens each era in the business from its inception in 1857 to today. The store and business itself a visible remnant of the 'Gold Rush' era in which it came to fruition and forms the basis of Bendigo's modern tourism culture.

Sparrows hop and dance about atop well-worn shelves, fluttering in and out the open door. A sole shaft of light sneaks from a high-set window, illuminating the still dusty air that holds dry notes of chaff and wheat. Pallets of stock feed line the walls, towering high above the original red brick floors and dominating the space.

Bush's historic red brick building
Bush's historic red brick building

Unchanged and enduring in its purpose, the back building houses a set of metal scales, sitting as they always have. A dulled sheen the only testament to the volume of lucerne and oats measured over the years, some heaved into the back of a waiting horse and cart, others into the tray of a humming Toyota ute.

Stepping down into the next room, polished crimson concrete floors and a fluorescent glare overhead form a stark contrast. A bristly crunch disrupts the silence as a young man glides a wicker broom across the floor.

A glinting framework of steel covers the walls, traps for possums, rats and feral cats organised by size and purpose. Bait, metal tools, fertilisers and lawn seed add to the unexpected selection echoing a former life as a general store. Housing implements to extinguish life, and those to bring it about and tend to it, alongside laundry powder and flour, it would not have been uncommon for rat sack and dog food to coexist.

Bush's Produce logo
Bush's Produce logo

Meandering still, another gentle slope leads down into the main storefront, awash with light and overlooking Bendigo's busy Williamson street where "produce, stock feed, pet supplies, hardware" emblazoned above the awnings does little to belie its true nature –or its history. Frank Webb, manager of Bush's for the past 16 years, leans with palms pressed atop the counter, thumbing through a notebook as a budgie swings contentedly to and fro on its perch behind him. Against a backdrop of bubbling fish tanks and the squeal of chaff laden trolley wheels, he is able to recount each purchase of the day and many of his customers by first name and family tree. A woman bought lucerne by the bale for her horses –"she just won a big show up in Sydney" says Frank, "another man wanted me to order in 30kg of basalt dust for his vineyard".

"The customer base is spread quite wide" concedes Frank, tapping his fingers rhythmically on timber bins brimming with bird seed, dog pellets and chook feed, perhaps summarizing best the typical Bush's customer. From hobby farmers and specialist livestock breeders to large commercial operations –the clientele is as varied as the catalogue of stock itself. With customers purchasing "anything from imitation chook eggs to lamb teats and formula", every corner holds a new surprise for the uninitiated visitor.

Tiger, the store's mascot and overseer

A cat slinks out from behind the counter, stretching languidly before darting into the next room and leaping onto an aquarium display.'Tiger', as she's known, has been a regular fixture of the store for years and her recent disappearance was felt strongly throughout the Bendigo community who rejoiced upon her return. Following her path leads to yet another segment of the store, more modern in its wares, and it is here that the tabby sprawls across the tank, absorbing the warmth of its lights. Goldfish bob about oblivious to the predator lounging above them whilst vibrant, hyperactive guppies and delicate angel fish also occupy the aquatic alcove. Seemingly out of place in a store so entrenched in rural culture, the fish became a more extensive fixture during the drought and Frank admits "we wouldn't be here if we stayed reliant on selling seed and stock feed –we had to move with the lifestyle trend."

Although still adhering to a traditional way of doing things and selling their produce by the kilogram, meticulously weighed bags of pet feed now sit huddled against mass produced brands. The new market of owners "want to give their pets the best nutrition they can," says Frank.

"Animals are no longer just for working but part of the family," and for this family 155 years in business is belittled alongside passion, community pride and the joy they take in creating a place of wonder and history for the next generation of visitors.

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Why? Traditional country business, historic buildings in the Gold Rush tourism city of Bendigo
Phone: (03) 5443 5960
Where: 94-96 Williamson Street Bendigo Victoria 3550
Cost: n/a
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